I dislike the word homework

I was just about to turn off the Kalinago and go on over to write in How-to-Learn-English, about idioms and ballparks but just before I do that I just gotta get something off my chest.

I hate the word homework.

I teach mainly adults these days and you know what happens to their faces when you say '...and your homework is...! Ya, you know. But think about the little ones, the kids, if you've ever taught these. They like homework. It's fun.

Remember when you were a kid?

It was fun!
Always something cool to do, drawing or making stuff. Sticking and gluing, putting together projects and talking to Mummy and Daddy. And getting praised by the teacher the next day.

Even math was enjoyable because with a little bit of work, erasing, more work, you could easily get to the solution.


Somewhere along the way from childhood to early teens the word homework went and got itself distorted and it just began to signify pain: hard annoying tasks with no tangible value. Your students were teens once too so...

Newsflash: they still feel the same way.

It's not that learning English isn't fun - it really is - it's the word that's the problem. Yuck. Homework.

What am I doing about this? You don't really expect me to twitter on without a suggestion, do you? LOL. You know me, I've been experimenting for over a year now. I've some alternative phrases so don't laugh, they work:

Pre task activity &
Post task activity

Today, in class, I asked my little group of students at an investment bank "So, guys, what would you like to do for your post-task?"

V told me he is going to watch part 3 of the Taleb interview on CNBC because he didn't get around to doing this yet and M is going to continue developing his map of collocations from our dissection of a Nokia investor relations speech (er, a future blog post, coming soon)

No grumbling. No fuss.

'So what's the plan for this week's PTA?' I ask.

MA at the other bank is going to make a poster of linking words - she's having a bit of trouble keeping them straight and P is going to write up a short email about Chinese investments; G is very busy this week but she might listen to the Business Spotlight podcast while running. H is going to learn about RFID technology via slideshare as he's got a client in this field.

carrotdog and stickThey choose. They do. It's really as simple as that.


p.s - What do you think? Want to give it a go? (You'll feel a bit strange at first, getting that yucky word out of your active vocabulary - actually I still smirk when I've got a brand new group and I have to explain to them that we're not using the word homework - they do look at me like I'm nuts - but it's working!) Or perhaps you've got an alternative phrase to PTA/ post and pre-task activity?

Or do you just think I've been teaching way too long and finally flipped out? Whichever it is, do let me know your thoughts as I love sharing and learning from you guys too... xK

Slide over to slideshare.net, EFL Tech-Tip -4

If you've been reading my blog postings for a while now then you'll already know that I'm a big fan of slideshare and even have my own page there.

If not, then let me quickly introduce you to a super source of material for your business, general English and ESP classes; teacher-training tips; grammatical explanations and much, much, more.

Slideshare is basically a platform where trainers, normal people and experienced consultants load up their powerpoint or open office presentations so that anyone who might be interested in learning from them can.

It's a wonderful source of authentic material, mostly highly professional and very informative.

The best of these are written with very few words, many images and thus work as excellent skills prompters.

You can use them as a basis to get your students chatting, writing, dissecting the issues in context or extracting core vocabulary. Get them making predictions, explaining backgrounds behind the ideas, comparing cultural influences or just simply learning English by learning something they're very interested in knowing more about.

Downloading from this site is a simple procedure: above each presentation which allows this function, there's a button you can use to do this. Look for the little pink heart which marks favorites - next to that there's a button with a down arrow indicating you can take the presentation and store it on your own computer.

And of course, if you don't have access to a computer in your classroom, you can also set the slideshares as a pre- or post-task activity (a.k.a homework) by sending your students the link(s) via email. Best, of course, is getting them to slide on over to make their own choices.

Useful links related to this posting:

Lesson tips using slideshare

Stuff I've used with my students, stuff I learned from, stuff I save here.
(see left side for tag types)


p.s. If you've got any other great tips to share with us on how to use slideshares in the ESL & EFL classroom or if you'd like to tell us how you used one of them with your students, don't hesitate to do so - we can all learn together - click on comments.

Update 25-March-2008 for the smartphone/blackberry and i-phone users:
Slideshare available on your mobile phones (as far as I can tell, still free)

Cardiff Online - EFL Conference Goes Virtual

Cardiff says hello to the world:

Biggest global teaching event ever!

Cardiff Online

On April 1st, 2009, over 1600 teachers and academics from around the world will descend on Cardiff for the annual conference of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL).

The conference boasts an international line up of world-class plenary speakers;
There will be over 400 talks, workshops, symposia and the event offers a state of the art exhibition of teaching materials, as well as a rich social program with a distinctly Welsh flavour. This year, 93 different countries will be represented at the event, making it a truly international occasion.

Delegates hail from as far as Vietnam, Venezuela, Cameroon and Micronesia.

However there are many thousands of professionals for whom attending the conference is usually no more than a dream because of the costs involved in travel to UK.

Therefore this year the event is being made accessible to thousands more participants from all around the globe through a virtual community space, known asCardiff on-line.’ This exciting and ground-breaking innovation is possible due to a collaboration between IATEFL and The British Council and is in line with their aim to link and support English language professionals worldwide.

The event, April 1 - April 4th 2009, is expected to be one of the biggest global teacher development events ever.

A large team will be in place behind the scenes to bring the workshops and speeches to remote audiences. Any teacher, anywhere in the world, from Mongolia, Nepal or Ethiopia to Germany, the USA and Japan will be able to sign up and participate for free in the conference from their own country.

All they'll need is good internet access, a computer and preferably a headset. All the plenary talks, as well as a sizable number of other presentations will be shown live over the Net, recorded and also made available on the conference site for later viewing.

There are also numerous forums discussing all aspects of the EFL profession, (already very active and engaging) photo albums, chat sessions and prizes!

See you there,


Useful links related to this posting:


Poster for your staffroom:

This text is an adaptation of the IATEFL Press release (March 09) , used with permission.

The Role of Pride in the Business English Classroom

eric pope glare by eric mill flickr At the British School in Tumbaco, I once had the brief and unfortunate experience of working for an arrogant pig (no longer employed there and no other word could describe this person) who thought that the Ecuadorian students and their parents were all stupid because they couldn’t speak to him in fluent English.

I remember very clearly his nose stuck about 100 meters in the air as he decried the entire Quiteño population devoid of intelligence while he himself, of course, could barely manage the words Cerveza or Baño.  Idiots aside, one of the things stopping communication from emerging in your adult language classrooms is fear.

Not just the fear of speaking but the fear of sounding stupid.

When teaching adults there is an extra, realistic, element: their fear of being judged as being inferior simply because they don’t know the right words nor how to use them appropriately.

So, today’s posting, part 3 on the art of teaching conversation is all about PRIDE.

As it’s probably this issue that accounts for the majority of students who end up quitting their lessons. Do you agree?

We've all got ego and those at the top have even more. I'm willing to bet you've all heard the following from your learners:

“I sounds unprofessional when I answer the phone. I speak not good so if no one help me, I put down the phone.” Croatian secretarial student.
“Sometimes my brain goes dead. The words I know go away completely and I suddenly don’t know what to say. When I remember it is too late, they are discussing something else.
I feel angry when this happens because in my language I can control the conversation, in English the people I am talking to control me.” German Business executive.
“Words are my life, my work. When I cannot use words I am not me.” Ecuadorian journalist.

crocodile shoes by sheilaellen flickr
Put yourself in their shoes!

Can you imagine what it must feel like to suddenly become that inadequate? 

Earlier that day they perhaps closed a €1.5million deal, are the kings and queens of their worlds yet when they swaggered into your English class they were suddenly unable to construct a simple sentence.

Pay special attention to your students’ lives, their prides about their lives and professions.

Think a little about the non-physical environment you create in the classroom and make efforts to keep it a safe, non-judgmental place: one where it is okay to try new challenges, make errors, be again five year old children or thirteen year old know-it-all-dummies. 

captain bob by lowjumpingfrog flickrYour role as their English teacher is to nurture, to coach them, to give them the tools which will allow them to express themselves

as themselves
within a foreign language.

One of the things I often do, especially with my captains of Industry is reminding them that I wouldn’t have a job if they were already perfect in English.   No job, no money, no life. We laugh when I say “Come on, please make lots of mistakes so that I can buy more chocolate/ pay my rent/ go on holiday!”

Do you have any useful tricks up your sleeve - things you do or say to make sure your students are comfortable with their errors?

Think about what else you can do to help your students keep their egos intact while extracting and encouraging their English conversational abilities.

Do you praise them often? How?

Are you, yourself, busy learning something new so that you can remind yourself often about what it feels like to be the ‘idiot’ in the room?

Don’t hesitate to let us know your own tips and strategies for managing pride in the adult Business English classroom

To read part one: knowing who your learners are, come here.
To read part two: finding out what your students are interested in discussing, come here.
Conversation materials and activities: www.kalinago-english.com

Tech Tips for ELT Trainers-3: Using Wordle for Vocabulary

Have you heard of Word Clouds?

Wordle is a great site that allows you to create word clouds out of a text.

You can use this
  • to pre-teach vocabulary, 
  • do a predictive exercise on an article or a reading you're about to do, 
  • make a vocabulary review exercise based on a lexis presented in a textbook and you can even  
  • make a poster for your classroom of discussion starters.

Here's a video that explains how to use it:

Pre-teach vocabulary based on an article:
Simply copy a recent article on a subject your students are interested in (online from the net) and then paste this text into wordle. The most frequently used, key-words, will be larger. Get your students to focus on the smaller words and check understanding. 

Predictive exercise based on a reading you're about to present:
Read through an article and then choose around 15 words which you think are an essential part of the story. Type these words into wordle. Multiply the most relevant words exponentially so that some words take on greater importance, i.e. copy a couple of the words and then paste them in ten, fifteen, twenty-five times etc. - depending on how large you'd like some of the words to be.

Give the sheet to the students and get them to tell you what they think the story/ article will be about.

Make a vocabulary review exercise:
Take a list of vocabulary based on a course book you're currently using and import these into wordle, along with synonyms and antonyms, if you wish.

Give the list to the students and review them. You can also do a matching exercise with these.

Consider working different lexical sets within one wordle - say car parts, automotive collocations,  frequent idioms about cars, name of manufacturers and then get your students making different groups out of the words - try turning it into a conversation exercise.

Conversation starters:
Type a list of topics which are regularly seen in the headlines or brainstorm topics you know your students are interested in discussing into a wordle.

Print the wordle(s) out, magnify and paste it up on your classroom wall.

Regularly encourage students to choose which topics they'd like to talk about at the beginning of each class and hold 10-15 minute conversations based on the ones they chose.

Homework activities:
Get your students making their own wordles of words they would like to review in the next class with you.

Useful links related to this posting:
A Wordle I made about Facebook for Business English students
Article that goes with this activity
Notes and further lesson ideas I wrote on the biz-e-tech wiki.
More tips on teaching with technology here.

  • Update 18March2009 -just found a few extra tips on Nik Peachey's blog, here.
  • Update 20April 2009 - Tom Barrett has created a comprehensive list of different ways to use wordle. The list is mainly aimed at primary/secondary educators but contains many ideas which can be adapted for the EFL classroom.
  •  Update 29May 2010 - Marisa Constantinides has written a post comparing different kinds of word cloud tools. JamieKeddie discovered a really useful way of keeping phrases together here.

This post was last updated 29-05-2010

Have you already used Wordle
to create BE lessons? 
Have you got a great tip to share?

How am I doing?

Hi guys,

Thanks very much for all your visits to my blog. Each time I notice in the back-pages that I have more visitors and an increase in repeat visitors, plus the time you spend in the blog and on the pages you make me continue working!

I am now at my 6 months point and at the moment, I'm preparing drafts of the changes I want to make on both sites, (this one and the one for students) - basically in terms of their overall structure and layout (adding a sitemap etc) so I would love to know your thoughts.

If you're a regular visitor or you're just newly here it'd be great to get feedback from you - you're my audience. ;-).

Obviously, you don't have to respond using your name and can remain anonymous - just hit the comments button. If you'd like to give me feedback which will only be seen by me, simply say this in your comment and I won't print it!

So here are my questions:
  • Do you enjoy your visits? What do you enjoy most? What do you enjoy least?
  • Is there anything I should be doing more of or less of?
  • Do you have any requests?
  • Any frustrations you'd like to share with me?
I'm really looking forward to hearing back from you, thanks for taking the time to do this.


Tech Tips for ELT Trainers-2: Be Brave

While browsing around the net, following one link after and another, I landed up in a Ning group called Classroom 2.0 which I promptly joined as the members there clearly know a lot about the various teaching practices using technology.

One of the pages I visited was a blogger called David Truss who writes a blog called A Pair of Dimes. He has created a beautiful video called the brave new world.

So after my personal-story-rant on why EFL teachers should really start using technology (here) in their classrooms, I thought it’d be fitting to use this as part of the Monday tech-tips series.

He’s agreed to let me post it up here and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Wasn’t that just great?

Now come on and join those of us producing dynamic lessons, interesting, pedagogically sound materials –there is a shift in education happening today and I do hope you want to be a part of it.

There are a lot of tools and a lot to learn (see article here) so every Monday I’ll add one more tip and we’ll get you there, bit by bit.

Where’s the love, y’all?

Part 2 of the Art of Teaching Conversation To Language Learners. To read part 1 first come here.
Last night, after a tough day presenting a educational proposal to a rather tough crowd, I met up with some mates and had a brilliant night listening to a rock band in an off-the-beaten-track club in Marienplatz.

The rockers were Germans, all between the ages of 50 and 60, singing in English and they were shockingly good. In no time at all, we were thrown back in time, belting out the Eye of the Tiger at the top of our voices and all cares and worries were instantly gone.
The passion of these white-haired geezers rubbed off on us and we had the time of our lives.
Enough about me,
are your students comfortable speaking English?

In part one of this series, I mentioned that to effectively teach speaking, you need to know who your students are and how they learn, however, you also need to know what it is that makes them tick as human beings. You need to know what their passions are.
There are several factors which prevent communication and fluency from occurring in your classroom.

One of these is motivation.

What are your students in to?

What makes them wake up in the morning, what do they look forward to, who have they been, what hard stuff have they had to live through?
What makes them mad or frustrated, what do they hope will happen before the end of the year?
What knowledge do they have that they just can’t wait to tell you?
Don’t know?

Find out!

ASK because it is this emotional stuff that drives most of us human beings to be humans.
No one cares to talk about things they don’t care about.
Am I telling it to simply?
comedian by zach klein flickr

Seriously, are you in the mood to discuss HTML and blog design with me?
Okay, maybe if you’re a fellow blogger who landed on this page you and I could have a good old chinwag.

But the rest of you (I know because I can see the snores in my friends’ eyes or hear them down the phone) are not going to sit through a discussion like this, right? This is pretty much what handing over a textbook to your students and then following through from page 1 to page 112 sequentially does.

It’s also what happens when you make photocopies of Spotlight on topics not relevant to their lives or download news articles from the net that are based on your interests, not theirs.

Your students have their own

  • hobbies

  • families

  • interests

  • concerns

  • ambitions

  • responsibilities

  • stories

  • lives!

Of course, sometimes it can be all about you and your interests. Sometimes that’s interesting as it’s motivating to them to learn about who you are and how you tick because you’re the teacher and they’re curious.

But not all the time.
When you’re working with a textbook or other learning material, personalize it, make it about them, turn each topic around so that it has something to do with their lives and interests.
If you’re lucky enough not to be in a situation which requires a set course book then you can make your entire curriculum entirely about your students needs and interests.

Ask them what these are.
I couldn’t answer or participate in class because although I wanted to speak in English, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know what to say, I had no relationship to the topic presented.
Beatrix W., Mercedes Bank, 2007 discussing why she didn’t participate in previous English lessons.

broken heart by franco folini flickr

For students whose affective filter (the emotional reason a person doesn’t learn) is based on fear or low self-esteem, your very paying attention to their needs will break this down.

Be a little patient with them, consistently show that you care: enjoy their triumphs, compliment their successes and show that you are interested in their lives.

In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book, How To Teach Speaking, he suggests that
the conditions in which speaking occurs play a crucial role in determining the degree of fluency achievable.’
He goes on to lay these out as:
Cognitive – familiarity with the topic, the genre, the other people you are talking to, shared knowledge and processing demands.
Affective – feelings towards the topics and participants and self-consciousness.
Performance – being able to monitor your fellow speakers’ responses, opportunities to use gesture and eye-contact, degree of collaboration, planning and rehearsal time, time pressure and environmental conditions.

Find out what your students are in to.
To do this, here’s the link to grab a simple brainstorming sheet from my website.

And here’s a video of me (How embarrassing –a very bad hair day but decided to show it to y’all anyway).

In it, I’m in the final steps of a brainstorming session with my students – I do these every 8 to 10 weeks and it gets easier and more interesting each time.

I hope it helps you out with your own elicitation of topics.
Do let me know how it goes, plus of course, don’t hesitate to ask if you’ve got any questions.

Read part one here or a related article here.

Watch the video we did when we were discussing the Sundance Film Festival, here.

Where’s the love y’all –part 2b Art of Teaching Conversation

If you just read the posting above on how important motivation is as a factor in teaching fluency to your language learners and you watched the video of my class in a brainstorming session then you’ll have seen that the Sundance film festival was one of our scheduled topics.

Here’s a look at the short we watched and discussed:

"Validation" is a fable about the magic of free parking. Starring TJ Thyne & Vicki Davis. Writer/Director/Composer - Kurt Kuenne. Winner - Best Narrative Short, Cleveland Int'l Film Festival, Winner - Jury Award, Gen Art Chicago Film Festival, Winner - Audience Award, Hawaii Int'l Film Festival, Winner - Best Short Comedy, Breckenridge Festival of Film, Winner - Crystal Heart Award, Best Short Film & Audience Award, Heartland Film Festival, Winner - Christopher & Dana Reeve Audience Award, Williamstown Film Festival, Winner - Best Comedy, Dam Short Film Festival, Winner - Best Short Film, Sedona Int'l Film Festival.

Neal Chambers of English Spark actually passed this on to me via Facebook, isn’t it just gorgeous?

Had to share it on with you guys too!

To download your own copy go to Youtube here.

Not sure how to, come here.

Tech Tips for ELT trainers–1: Computer Hardware

Every Monday, I’ll kick off the week by posting up a training video or a slideshare on technology and the English Language Classroom.

To start us off we’ll be looking at this video from the Commoncraft show on hardware.

Knowing how the computer works will help you understand all the other stuff you’re doing on it!

Don’t hesitate to let me know if you like(d) the video or if there is anything else in particular you would like to see. Simply click on the comments to communicate with me.


Visitors and Regular Readers


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed

Communities of Practice

Blog Archive

Directories, catalogs and Back Links

Adult Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

The EFL ESL Blog List TotalESL.com - ESL/EFL/TEFL Teaching Jobs and Teacher Resumes

International Blogging Directory

Recent Posts

Simply Conversations

Pedagogically sound materials designed to get your students actively talking:

Free Samples
Conversation Control

General English
Business English

Learn more on why these work